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Atomised
cast: Moritz Bleibtreu, Christian Ulmen, Franka Potente, Martina Gedeck, Nina Hoss

director: Oskar Roehler

113 minutes (15) 2006
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Momentum DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Tom Johnstone
On the face of it, the two protagonists of Oskar Roehler's adaptation of the Michel Houellebecq novel have very little in common, although they are half brothers. True, both are academics of one sort or another. But Michael (Christian Ulmen) is a geneticist so single-minded in the pursuit of a theory of reproduction divorced from sexual intercourse that he has become an ascetic, a modern day, scientific monk, haunted by his adolescent rejection of his childhood sweetheart (Franka Potente). Bruno (Moritz Bleibtreu), on the other hand, is a teacher, whose sex addiction is so acute and debilitating that he regularly has to admit himself for hospital treatment. These two extremes of sexual behaviour represent responses to their abandonment by their hippy mother, in what was presumably a thinly veiled attack by Houellebecq on the twin evils of permissiveness and female emancipation. Hence when they both track her down to some commune, Bruno launches into a tirade against her on her deathbed. It is noticeable that he is not so scathing when he tracks down his biological father, a failed plastic surgeon, who presumably abandoned him as well.

When he's not masturbating over one of his nubile female students' essays by day, by night Bruno is an impassioned right wing ideologue, so virulent he can't even get published by fascists who like his hate-filled diatribes. There is a scene where a racist publisher complains cynically about the stifling atmosphere of political correctness and so on. Bruno's lonely-hearts ad might read: 'obnoxious reactionary sex maniac seeks similar to take him to swingers' parties'. And he finally meets one in the hot tub at the kind of hippy utopia he despises. Yes, there she is, the woman of his dreams, and just when he thinks things can't get any better, he finds that she hates feminists too! But things are bound to go wrong, because she's a bit too sexually liberated, so she's bound to get struck down with a nasty disease that paralyses her from the waist down, as a punishment for her promiscuity...

The self-effacing Michael on the other hand is luckier, because while watching his grandmother's bones get dug up to make way for some new development, he bumps into his childhood sweetheart again, who's doing what childhood sweethearts (and all good women, it would seem) are supposed to do: she's stayed at her parents' house and kept herself pure for him. Well, not quite pure: she's had a string of meaningless sexual encounters on the way, but they all left her feeling used and dirty, because really Michael was the only man for her, at least she hasn't enjoyed them like Bruno's doomed love. It's depressingly apt the way in which Michael's quest for sexless procreation is mirrored by the strangely chaste consummation of their romance. But Roehler's version of Atomised may not be as anti-permissiveness as it seems. The flashback sequences set in the 1960s and 1970s are shot full of bright, sun-drenched colour, in contrast with the drab ashen pallor of the present day sequences. Whatever the humiliations and privations of the two half brothers' upbringing of being passed from pillar to post, their teenage years look more fun than their mid-thirties.

DVD extras for those who are interested include The Making Of Atomised, the trailer, and interviews with the cast.
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